The lucrative summer travel season has come and gone, but the opportunity to book your short-term rental hasn’t.
After all, many travelers prefer vacationing during the less-chaotic — and less expensive — off-peak seasons. There are fewer crowds, lower prices and no wait at the restaurants when it’s time to go out. There are other attractions, too. From fall festivals, football and Oktoberfest, to the changing of seasons, there’s plenty to see and do during the autumn months.
We all know the value of gaining visibility for a short-term rental by listing it on popular rental websites such as VRBO or Airbnb. But maintaining a steady stream of guests during the offseason often requires a bit more effort and ingenuity.
Here’s what you should — and shouldn’t — do to give your short-term rental an edge:
Provide numerous (and high-quality) pictures
Make sure your listing is strong and stands out from the crowd. High-quality pictures can lead to a significant boost in interest from prospective renters. After all, more than one-third of marketers say images are the most critical form of content for their businesses. Also, viewing pictures is how most guests shop the various rental websites, compare properties and select the one they want to book.
When listing your short-term rental, be sure to include high-quality photos that showcase your property’s most enticing features.
Consider hiring a professional photographer to snap clear, well-lit and high-resolution stills of each room. Include close-up shots that showcase unique features, such as a claw-footed bathtub or local artwork, too. Images of your property’s green space, gardens and any standout views should also be shared.
The photos you post should be clear, clutter-free, well-lit and reflect the personality of your space. Conversely, property owners are wise to avoid grainy photos, showing dark or unkempt spaces, photos of mass-produced artwork, or any images that could make their rental look sloppy or outdated.
The right pictures allow travelers to visualize a space and determine whether it would serve their needs. They also help your short-term rental stand out among the hundreds of other listings in your area.
Don’t forget about upcoming events
Colorful leaves, bountiful harvests and fun festivals are among the many appeals of autumn travel. Tourists regularly flock to Colorado to witness the magnificent transformation of leaves in Colorado, or embark on road trips through scenic New Hampshire. Apple and wine festivals and Oktoberfest celebrations are also popular draws. Depending on your location, football games or a parents weekend at the local college can attract a high volume of visitors and sell out local hotels. Short-term rentals are a great option for these travelers.
When updating your short-term rental listing for fall, remember to note any significant events or local highlights. This will help bolster your marketing efforts and could lure travelers who are looking for a reason to get away.
Upcoming events also present short-term rental owners with an opportunity to advertise through targeted marketing or cross-promotions. This will increase the odds of travelers viewing your listing.
Pay attention to local market and pricing trends
During the offseason, travelers are expecting lower prices, and you might need to adjust your peak summer rates to attract those bargain-hunting guests.
But before adjusting your rates for shoulder season, first evaluate your local market to get a better sense of current pricing trends. There’s likely been a surge of short-term rentals in your area — at least if recent National Association of Realtors research is any indication. But demand for vacation rentals is on the rise, too. Check how local hotels or other rentals are pricing, and discounting, for the fall season. Make sure you are priced appropriately and not losing interest and guests because your nightly rate is too high.
Alternatively, it could be that you’re underpricing your rental. Depending on your region, short-term rental prices may have more flexibility — particularly if you live in an area that’s a popular fall destination. If so, you may be able to raise your prices and still have the opportunity to keep your vacation rental business humming.
Maintain professionalism and act like you’re in the hospitality business
Managing a short-term rental might be a side gig for you, but that doesn’t mean you should be any less professional toward your guests.
Always be responsive, thoughtful and welcoming to current and prospective guests. Make sure your property has all the basic necessities they’ll need to feel comfortable, too. While the basics — such as cable TV and WiFi — should be included, consider taking your service further. High-quality linens, newer flat-panel TVs, sound systems, Netflix subscriptions and gaming systems are opportunities for your property to stand out among the competition.
And just as you should strive to provide excellent service to guests, you should ensure your short-term rental is well advertised. When short-term rentals are underbooked, it’s often because the rental wasn’t properly maintained, marketed or priced. If you haven’t done so already, create a comprehensive listing for your rental — and try to incorporate guest reviews within it. Guest reviews are an important component of attracting renters. Develop a routine of asking your guests to complete a review so you can build a nice inventory of positive feedback for future guests to see when viewing your listing.
If you can’t find time to effectively manage your short-term rental, or if you find that what you’re currently doing is not working, hire someone who can help with areas such as marketing, customer research and listing management. Hiring a full-service property manager is how many people prefer to handle their rental property. A service manager will do everything for you — they typically charge a commission of 20 to 40 percent, depending on your area.
There are also easy-to-use automated tools and services that can help alleviate your workload. New technologies allow property owners to automate everything from money collection, directions, checking instructions, housekeeping coordination and occupancy tax filings, to promotional advertisements and email marketing. By simplifying these processes, you’ll have more time to focus on boosting your bookings and make the entire process easier.
Don’t forget about short-term lodging taxes and regulations
As a short-term rental owner, you’re running a small business. Make sure all required lodging taxes are collected and remitted to the proper authorities. Additionally, there may be additional registration, licensing or other short-term rental regulations in your area.
Some major U.S. cities have restricted short-term rentals and require that owners to be on the property to physically host short-term guests. Others require owners to register with the city for a business or rental license.
Additionally, don’t overlook any potential homeowners association (HOA) regulations that might affect your ability to operate a short-term rental in your community. Consult your HOA covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) or speak with your association’s property manager to determine any rules you should be aware of when looking to operate a short-term rental in the community.
It’s important to understand your rights, and regulatory requirements, as a short-term rental owner. And remember, your guest is responsible for paying any occupancy taxes, but you’re responsible for collecting the taxes from your guest and remitting them to the appropriate tax agencies. If the tax is not paid, you’ll be on the hook to cover that cost. There are often multiple agencies in your area that require short-term rental tax remittance, such as the city and the state, so make sure you’re informed about your tax obligations.
There are tools available that will manage the hotel occupancy tax requirements, such as notifying you of the tax rate to charge your guests and remitting the taxes each month to the correct agencies. These tools are becoming increasingly valuable for short-term rental owners as regulations and tax requirements continue to evolve in local markets across the country. The right short-term lodging tax remittance solution will also help you register and secure licensing if that’s required in your area. Collecting occupancy tax and registering with the proper authorities is a great way to protect your property rights and avoid liability for unpaid taxes and other problems.
As the last hints of summer slip away, turn your focus toward maintaining your short-term rental’s success moving forward. Last year, about 25 percent of Americans planned to take a vacation between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, according to AAA. By executing the right strategy, your short-term rental can prosper from these offseason travelers.
Rob Stephen is co-founder and general manager of Seattle-based Avalara MyLodgeTax, which provides tax compliance solutions for the vacation rental industry.